* From AFSCME Council 31…
AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR AFSCME MEMBERS IN ILLINOIS STATE GOVERNMENT
RIGID VACCINE MANDATES WON’T WORK
Vaccinations are an essential tool in halting the spread of the coronavirus and our union has worked diligently to educate members about the importance of getting vaccinated to protect themselves, their families, and their co-workers. Thousands have already done so.
Oppose Rigid, Universal Mandate
However, we know there are union members who remain fearful of the COVID vaccine, as well as others who have medical contraindications or religious objections. That’s why AFSCME opposes rigid, universal vaccine mandates that effectively threaten employees with termination if they do not get vaccinated.
And that’s why our union is opposed to the plan Governor Pritzker recently put forth to mandate COVID vaccinations for all state employees who work in congregate facilities in DOC, DJJ, DHS, and DVA.
Employees in these facilities have been on the job daily since the onset of this pandemic, providing care for some of our state’s most severely disabled individuals and ailing veterans, as well as maintaining order and providing rehabilitative services in prisons and youth centers.
A punitive universal mandate only serves to undermine morale and heighten the stress of these already stressful jobs.
While the courts have consistently affirmed that employers have the right to mandate vaccinations (as they have done in the past to address other types of health threats), both private sector (NLRA) labor law, as well as state public employee labor laws (e.g. IPLRA), require employers to bargain over the impact (implementation) of such a decision.
In announcing this employee mandate earlier this month, Gov. Pritzker recognized the administration’s duty to bargain with unions representing state employees and quickly moved to initiate such negotiations with our union.
With a union bargaining team that includes all members of the Council 31 Executive Board who currently work in a state congregate facility, those negotiations are now underway.
A Better Path
Based on input from local union leaders from around the state, the AFSCME team pointed out to management that a key problem in controlling the spread of the virus is operational laxity in the administration of some of the congregate facilities: Too often safety protocols are neglected, testing is not rigorous, visitors are often not required to wear masks, and quarantines are frequently not put in place in the wake of exposure to the virus.
AFSCME argued that the State should work with the Union to address these unsafe conditions before turning to employee vaccination mandates. CMS responded that they are prepared to work cooperatively to address these safety problems, but they want to do so in conjunction with a mandatory vaccination program.
The union bargaining team has also pointed to the federal government and other state governments that have put more flexible forms of vaccination programs in place, such as providing for a strict testing regimen as an alternative for those who object to vaccinations.
In addition, we have expressed serious concern that if a significant number of employees are discharged as a result of this plan, understaffing in these agencies—which are finding it increasingly difficult to hire new employees—would be greatly exacerbated and overtime pressures on the remaining employees would grow.
Noting that it is now well documented that the Delta variant can also strike the vaccinated, as well as the unvaccinated, the Union is also urging that if the Employer is serious about combatting COVID in these settings, it should act immediately to restore the policy whereby employees who become sick with COVID—or are quarantined by the employer or a public health body—are granted paid time off rather than having to file workers’ compensation claims.
Bargaining Should “Freeze” Implementation
The governor’s plan sets October 4th as the deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated—and the relevant agencies have been notifying employees that they must get vaccinated in the next few weeks in order to be in compliance. That’s flat-out wrong. AFSCME has informed Management that pursuant to state labor law, the employer cannot proceed to implementation of its plan while negotiations are ongoing.
Our union will continue to push for flexibility rather than the rigid, universal vaccination plan that the State is now proposing for state employees. We take very seriously our obligation to safeguard the health and safety of union members, as well as the public they serve. Our actions have been—and will continue to be—guided by the conviction that encouragement and education, not punitive measures, are the best path forward in combatting the deadly coronavirus and its variants. Our best hope of achieving that goal is rooted in the grassroots solidarity that has long been the hallmark of our union.
Pandering of the worst sort.
*** UPDATE *** OK, let’s go through this a bit. First, a religious exemption is required under Supreme Court rulings, so AFSCME knows it will be in there. And federal law requires medical exemptions. Those are red herrings.
Second, who controls actual access to prisons and other congregate settings? Well, that would be AFSCME members. If they have a beef about visitors not wearing masks, then enforce the policy. Also, while testing is being performed pretty frequently right now, it could be ramped up more. But, really, this should go beyond testing, particularly in the veterans’ homes and homes for mentally and developmentally disabled. AFSCME should stop pandering to IDOC workers.
Third, unlimited extra paid time off for unvaccinated workers seems just bizarre to me. If you’ve got a legit exemption, fine. If you get a little sick after taking the shot, fine. If you have a breakthrough case and you’re sick, fine.